Spring ain’t all it’s hyped up to be

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’”

                                                –Robin Williams

So today is May 1. May Day — celebrated by some to honor workers and by others to welcome the coming of summer.

Beltane, an ancient Celtic festival predating Christianity, was traditionally observed with a variety of symbolic fire rituals possibly to honor Belenus, the Celtic sun god, according to the Huffington Post.

And why not? After a long, dark, isolated winter, community members gather and delight in days of increased sunlight and moderated temperatures.

Spring festivals also mark seasonal change and with it, people’s sunnier dispositions.

But how true is the common thinking that spring is a time of joyful hopefulness?

Researchers have found that people (particularly those living in the grips of winter’s cold, gray climes) initially revel in spring’s reborn sunshine and warmer days.

But it isn’t quite that straightforward.

For example, contrary to popular “wisdom,” suicides peak during spring and summer, according several studies summarized by Dr. John M. Grohol in a 2014 article on PsychCentral.

Other researchers too have found that springtime weather doesn’t necessarily mean people feel everything’s coming up roses.

“The idea that pleasant weather increases people’s positive mood in general is not supported by the findings,” wrote researchers of a 2008 study published by the American Psychological Association.

Vitamin D3 produced in skin exposed to sunlight increases serotonin levels in the brain. And increased serotonin in the brain is known to elevate mood and decrease tiredness, the same authors wrote.

Additionally, they found participants had different sensitivities to weather independent from their other personality traits.

The first irises I've ever grown make me giddy with joy.

The first irises I’ve ever grown make me giddy with joy.

But interestingly, a 2004 study published in Psychological Science found happier moods, better memory and increased open-mindedness correlated to “pleasant weather” (ie.: clear, sunny, warm days), but only in relation to how much time participants spent outside.

Participants who spent more time outdoors on pleasant spring days showed positive changes. However, those who spent most of their time indoors (less than 45 minutes outside) on those same days experienced less-than-happy moods and lowered cognitive levels.

“One possible explanation for this result is that people consciously resent being cooped up indoors when the weather is pleasant in the spring,” researchers wrote. “Another possibility is that brief exposure to pleasant weather places people in mood and mind states that make normal day-to-day indoor activities feel boring or irritating.”

I can relate …

But my favorite sentence from that study is this: “If future work continues to support the hypotheses of this article, the behavioral prescription is straightforward: If you wish to reap the psychological benefits of good springtime weather, go outside.”

And as those of you who have been following me from the beginning of this blog know, I heed their words.

I try to exercise outside at least several times weekly — I LOVE my bicycle.

As much as possible, I work on my deck with a view of the Bridger Mountains (see previous post, Despite the Quietude). I don’t mean to make you inside desk jockeys jealous, but it’s the path I’ve chosen and I couldn’t be happier.

It may not be the prescription to avoiding distraction, but it sure as heck makes me appreciate my life and if I’m happy, I’m more focused and more productive. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the ticket.

Happy Beltane to all!

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